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22 posts categorized "Katrina"

[Excerpt] 'When the Past Is Never Gone'

September 03, 2015

Guard_superdome_katrinaAs people around the country mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it's entirely appropriate that many should feel the need to pause and reflect on what the storm and its aftermath reveal about our troubled racial past. The images broadcast to the world from a flooded New Orleans — of panicked families stranded on rooftops, of National Guardsmen ignoring pleas for assistance from the mostly African-American crowds gathered at the squalid Superdome, of armed sheriffs denying safe passage to New Orleanians trying to flee the city on foot — were a reminder in 2005, as they are today, that the past is always with us.

That suggestion, as Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, notes, has been advanced many times, by many people. In an essay accompanying the foundation's most recent annual report, Lewis, paraphrasing Edward Ball, the author of Slaves in the Family, writes: "[T]he policing of black bodies, and the legislated use of extralegal actions, has its roots in an earlier America, where every black person was assumed to be some white person's property and many whites presumed themselves deputized to reconnect property and owner." It is an observation that lays bare the immorality of America's "peculiar institution" — and one that many would argue has no relevance to our own "post-racial" century. Lewis, a noted social historian and Foundation Center board member, isn't one of them. Like an "apparition out of time," he writes, "slavery's ghost — and the specter of race and difference — never seem to leave us."

One way to make sense of "slavery’s lingering presence," Lewis suggests, is to ask and try to answer questions about the institution through the scholarship of the humanities and the arts. For half a century, the Mellon Foundation has been one of the important private sponsors of such inquiry. Indeed, under Lewis's leadership, it has reaffirmed its commitment to scholarship and the humanities. Why? Because, in a world characterized by rapid change, the humanities matter — maybe more than ever. Foundation Center, for its part, collects and analyzes data related to how foundations like Mellon address social challenges deeply rooted in the past, from black male achievement to education reform to diversity in philanthropy. Philanthropy, by itself, can't solve these problems, any more than it can erase the legacy of slavery. But without a solid grasp of what it has done to address racial inequities in the past — and is trying to do in the present — it cannot expect to achieve its aims in the future.

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Katrina 10: Recovery, Resilience, and a City Back From the Dead

August 29, 2015

In Post-Katrina New Orleans, Do Black Lives Really Matter?

August 28, 2015

Katrina_steps_guardianHurricane Katrina laid bare the lack of value attached to black lives in the U.S., a reality that New Orleans residents and the nation are still wrestling with a decade later. Recent events suggest that Americans are at a crossroads in terms of how they think, talk about, and deal with race and racism — but are still a long way from agreeing that black lives do indeed matter.

Ten years after Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees, the outlook for the city's African-American community is as grim as it was before the storm hit. According to the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, an estimated 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the city are disconnected from education and employment. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, which jails nearly 40,000 people per year (66 percent of whom are African American), as many as one in seven black men in some New Orleans neighborhoods are either in prison, on probation, or on parole. What's more, fully half of all African-American children in New Orleans live in poverty — more than in 2005.

As we mark another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a fateful turning point in the city's and nation’s history, a critical question remains: How has so much racial and economic inequity been allowed to not only persist but worsen?

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5 Questions for...Robert G. Ottenhoff, President and CEO, Center for Disaster Philanthropy

August 11, 2015

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, leaving 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, killing more than eighteen hundred people, and displacing hundreds of thousands of others, important questions remain unanswered. Are we better prepared to help communities of all kinds respond to and rebuild from extreme weather events and natural disasters? Has greater media scrutiny of relief organizations improved the efficiency and effectiveness of their efforts? If not, why not? And what can or should philanthropy do to improve its performance and responsiveness in the wake of a major disaster?

With the tenth anniversary of Katrina just weeks away, PND asked Robert G. Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy — an organization founded in the aftermath of the storm — how the philanthropic response to major disasters has evolved over the last decade and what his organization is doing to ensure that the philanthropic community is an integral and effective part of the response to major disasters in the future.

Robert_ottenhoff_for_PhilanTopicPhilanthropy News Digest: You’ve written that Hurricane Katrina "forever changed the way our nation thinks, reacts, and plans for massive natural disasters." How so? And what were the key lessons learned by philanthropy in the aftermath of that disaster?

Robert G. Ottenhoff: Katrina was a traumatic experience for our nation and brought the realization that our conventional ways of responding to disasters were insufficient and unsustainable. We learned three big lessons: the need for comprehensive advance planning and preparation for disasters; the critical importance of building communities that are resilient to disaster and better able to respond and bounce back; and the need for funders to support disaster recovery needs before and after disaster strikes, as well as during the immediate humanitarian crisis.

Nonprofit organizations need a plan themselves, too. How will they respond when a disaster strikes? How will they handle an influx of donations or volunteers? If they are a service provider in a stricken city, how will they make sure any interruption of service is as limited as possible? How will their staffs continue to provide vital services?

CDP has been working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Rockefeller Foundation on the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Forty communities that have experienced natural disasters are competing for $1 billion in funds to help them rebuild and increase their resilience to future disasters. Our staff contributed to Rockefeller's Resilience Academies in Chicago and Denver with jurisdiction finalists and are working with them to develop initiatives and outreach plans that will better prepare them for future disasters — and, we hope, lead to better partnerships with foundations and corporations.

CDP also is working to ensure that the philanthropic community understands the importance of supporting long- and mid-term recovery needs in disaster areas. This fall, we will begin the process of awarding grants from our Nepal Earthquake Recovery Fund to community organizations in Nepal. Now that much of the immediate crisis has passed, these funds, raised from more than two hundred and sixty institutional and individual donors, will focus on long-term recovery and rebuilding of devastated areas.

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This Week in PubHub: Advocacy

November 11, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports that examine issues related to immigrants and their children.)

The midterm elections may be behind us, but the question remains: What role should philanthropy play in promoting civic participation, educating voters, and shaping public policy? As we highlight foundation practices and some of the year’s philanthropic trends in conjunction with National Philanthropy Day, we start with a group of reports that consider various aspects of civic engagement and advocacy, which can include community organizing, grassroots leadership development, needs assessments and polling, research into critical issues and potential solutions, and systemic reform.

A growing number of people would argue that advocacy and civic engagement are essential aspects of strategic philanthropy. Foundations for Civic Impact: Advocacy and Civic Engagement Toolkit for Private Foundations, a publication issued by the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest, highlights the rationale for private foundation support of advocacy and civic-engagement efforts: Such support enables foundations to advance their missions, promote systemic social change, strengthen democracy, and protect their interests. With a clear understanding of the types of lobbying and voter-engagement activities they can and cannot fund, combined with effective communications materials, grantmakers can do much to empower citizens and grantees and deepen the latter's impact. (Community and public foundation leaders should refer to CLPI’s Toolkit for Community Foundations).

Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in Los Angeles, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, offers a number of advocacy-related success stories. Among other things, the study found that between 2004 and 2008, every dollar invested in the advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement activities of fifteen Los Angeles-area community groups returned $91 in benefits for marginalized communities. Using a range of creative strategies -- from organizing to ballot initiatives to coalition-building -- these groups also made progress on a variety of non-monetary benefits, including improved air quality and working conditions, greater access to higher education, and enhanced services for LGBTQ and limited English proficiency residents. To further increase the impact these groups are having in their communities, the report recommends that foundations provide additional funding for advocacy efforts, engage more directly with grantee boards and donors, do more to support collaboration and foster shared learning, invest in capacity building, and provide more general operating support and multiyear grants.

Five years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the the Gulf Coast, a new culture of civic engagement is taking hold in the region, the Alliance for Justice reports in Power Amidst Renewal: Foundation Support for Sustaining Advocacy After Disasters. Despite ongoing challenges, the region is seeing efforts to organize low-income communities, develop coalitions, and advocate around environmental, educational, criminal justice, housing, and infrastructure issues. Indeed, advocacy work across the region has become broader, more collaborative, and more integrated into nonprofits' missions and day-to-day operations, the report's authors note. Moreover, local foundations such as the Foundation for the Mid South and the Greater New Orleans Foundation (as well as national foundations) are playing a critical role in boosting the capacity and effectiveness of nonprofits in the region to engage with and shape public policy. The report concludes that continued support for post-disaster advocacy should be flexible and for longer grant periods; include advocacy training and technical assistance; involve local partners; be adaptable to the emergence of coalitions and collaboratives; and focus on strengthening community-based foundations.

Even a healthy culture of civic engagement cannot thrive without the participation of younger generations. Just as the 2008 elections showcased the power and potential of youth civic engagement, non-college youth, who comprise almost half the nation's young adults, were largely absent on Election Day. The question of how to engage youth who are disconnected from educational opportunities and jobs is the focus of Youth Civic Engagement Grantmaking: Strategic Review, a 2009 assessment of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's youth civic engagement program, which supports organizing activities led by low-income youth and youth of color with the aim of establishing a robust infrastructure for sustained engagement and leadership development in the broader progressive movement. Conducted by Mosaica: The Center for Nonprofit Development and Pluralism, the review includes a number of recommendations for improving the program: supporting collective organizational capacity-building strategies, investing in national and regional convenings, building infrastructure in regions and communities with gaps in youth civic engagement, and developing a knowledge base for the field.

How do you see the role of foundations evolving vis-à-vis policy advocacy and civic engagement? What strategies have worked in your issue area or region? And what other emerging strategies show promise? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse reports on philanthropy and voluntarism by sub-category, including capacity building, governance, performance/failure analysis, program evaluation, and volunteerism. Or browse all the reports related to philanthropy and voluntarism — more than 1,300 of them!

-- Kyoko Uchida

Pakistan: Mobile Giving Campaigns

August 23, 2010

The situation in Pakistan continues to worsen. Even as flooding subsides in the northern part of the country, the more populous south is being inundated. As one reporter on the ground put it -- and the CNN video below makes clear -- the country is experiencing a slow-motion catastrophe of "unparalleled proportions."

Three weeks after the Indus River began to overflow its banks, however, donations to help those affected by the flooding -- latest estimates put that number at 20 million -- are running well behind the rate seen after recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Caroline Preston reported this morning, 22 U.S. aid groups have raised a total of $9.8 million to assist Pakistanis affected by the floods, whereas two-and-a-half weeks after the Haiti earthquake, 40 aid groups had brought in a total of $560 million.

According to some observers, it will take Pakistan, already a poor country, fifteen years to recover from this month's floods. A desperately poor and weakened Pakistan is in no one's best interest -- least of all the Pakistani people. Any of the organizations listed below will be happy to put your small donation to good use.

In the U.S.:

  • For Central Asia Institute, text the word CAI to 50555 to donate $10. Central Asia Institute provides community-based education opportunities in Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • For CHF International, text the word PAKISTAN to 50555 to donate $5. CHF International will provide transitional shelter, work to restore livelihoods, and ultimately re-build Pakistan's economic and social foundations.
  • For Islamic Society of North America, text the word RELIEF to 27722 to donate $10. The Islamic Society of North America contributes to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large.
  • For UNICEF, text the word FLOODS to 864233 to donate $10.
  • For UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), text the word SWAT to 50555 to donate $10. UNHCR emergency response teams are distributing tents, relief supplies, and humanitarian assistance to people displaced by the flooding.
  • For U.S. Department of State, text the word FLOOD to 27722 to donate $10. Created by the U.S. government, the Pakistan Relief Fund will serve as a mechanism for the public to contribute money to the ongoing efforts in Pakistan.
  • For the World Food Programme, text the word AID to 27722 to donate $10. WFP will use helicopters to transport food to people in isolated communities across the Swat Valley.
  • For World Emergency Relief, text the word RESCUE to 50555 to donate $10. Based in San Diego County, the Rescue Task Force responds to natural and man-made disasters worldwide.
  • For Zakat Foundation of America, text the work ZAKATUS to 50555 to donate $10. The Zakat Foundation has begun to address the immediate needs of flood survivors by providing food and clothing in four key Pakistani districts.

In Canada:

  • Text the word REDCROSS to 30333 to donate $10 to the Canadian Red Cross.
  • Text the word GIVE in English or DON in French to 45678 to donate $5 to UNICEF.
  • Text the word WORLD to 45678 to donate $5 to World Vision Canada.


  1. mGive Mobile Donation Campaigns Established to Assist Flood Victims in Pakistan (PRNewswire 8/6/10)
  2. Donate to the Pakistan Relief Fund
  3. Mobile Giving "Text-to-Donate" Campaigns for Pakistan Flood Relief Efforts Launched by the Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF and World Vision Canada (8/22/10)

-- Mitch Nauffts and Regina Mahone

Growing Wiser

August 11, 2010

(Tony Pipa is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he argued that it's time for stakeholders to revisit the question of a joint appeal for U.S.-based disaster relief efforts.)

Timepiece I fully intended to write a review of Mark Constantine's Wit and Wisdom: Unleashing the Philanthropic Imagination * (available for download here) when it was published by Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy over a year ago but never found the time amid the multiple projects I was juggling. The book's lessons, however, have proven so prescient in the intervening year that I want now to give it the attention it deserves.

Constantine's book contains a series of interviews with leading philanthropic practitioners who have spent their careers working to address social, racial, and economic justice in the American South. The emotional scars and real successes articulated in the reflections of these philanthropic veterans stand as a small but needed response to a yawning gap -- the lack of attention paid within the philanthropic community to the lessons of its past. The book is important for that reason alone.

It also has important things to say about many other issues at play within the field today. I was especially struck by the attention it pays to the subject of privilege in philanthropic practice.

Money, after all, bestows power. And as Gayle Williams of the Mary Babcock Reynolds Foundation notes, it is important for philanthropic leaders to recognize that this dynamic defines most of their relationships, and that the power they wield -- however well-intended its uses -- can do harm to the very organizations and people they are supporting.

In another interview, Jack Murrah of the Lyndhurst Foundation expresses frustration at many funders' conception of "empowerment":

My power and the foundation's power are not really transferable to others, and it seems arrogant to imagine that it is. Moreover, other people and organizations have forms of power that we don't have. For me the question is not how the foundation can empower someone else, but how we can bring various kinds of power together around a larger cause to produce results....

It's this vision of collective action that -- at least in these philanthropists' experiences -- provides the best prospects for effecting long-term change on big issues such as poverty, democratic representation, and racism. Time and again, in different ways, they talk about listening to, trusting in, and supporting an agenda for progress that is defined by communities themselves. As Williams puts it, it's a vision frequently at odds with the prevailing focus on "individual vision":

Philanthropists talk about their vision for change, without considering how to include the hopes, talents, and perspectives of diverse people in realizing a collective end that serves all people....

Such an approach requires humility, attention to a different kind of detail, and a leadership style that, as former COF president and ambassador Jim Joseph says, "is a way of being, not a set of competencies and skills." As Joseph, talking about Nelson Mandela, notes, "the question is not 'What to do?' but 'How to be?'"

I was reminded of these themes often when helping a national organization evaluate their program in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. It was clear to me that their investments in collective action and in representative local organizations did not always influence public resources and decisions to the extent they would have liked. Yet it was also clear that, in future years, their investments in these local leaders and organizations were likely to yield gains that they could not have forseen at the time.

And that's the wild card -- time. In fact, it is consistency of financial support, rather than quantity, that comes up again and again in these stories and is given the lion's share of the credit for stimulating the sort of durable, transformational social change that these leaders aspire to facilitate. Alas, it's a lesson all too easily forgotten in the debates about scaling up, metrics, and impact that preoccupy much of the field today.

Indeed, it makes me think we should be thinking about "scale" in terms of years, not amount of dollars or breadth of geography. As the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation's Sybil Hampton notes:

There is very little we have done...that I think will reap their full results in my lifetime; we are sowing seeds and preparing the ground for things in perpetuity....

Wit and Wisdom should be read by anyone who believes in the importance of patience, humility, and the power of hope to effect community change. Indeed, Constantine's book offers a recipe for change that does not lend itself to easy metrics but contains many of the key ingredients required to make it happen. Read it, then keep it on your nightstand and refer to it often. The communities you are working to support will be the better for it.

(*Disclaimer: Mark Constantine is a friend, and not only do I know those profiled in the book, I've had the pleasure of working closely with many of them and benefiting from their wisdom. Those profiled and/or contributing to the book include Ambassador James Joseph, Linetta Gilbert, Tom Wacaster, Gayle Williams, Sybil Jordan Hampton, Jack Murrah, Sherry Magill, Karl Stauber, Lynn Huntley, and Emmett Carson.)

--Tony Pipa

Social Issue Documentaries

October 28, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the annual Robert Flaherty Film Seminar.)

Docfilm_bwcamera The audience for documentary films is bigger than ever, as evidenced by the increasing number of documentary festivals and broadcast venues, both public TV and cable, as well as streaming and Video on Demand (VOD). And the opportunities to see documentaries are matched by the variety of documentaries available -- from expository to impressionistic, right wing to progressive, local to global, short to very long.

As the field has grown, more funders are considering whether and how they can connect their priorities to documentary films and, indeed, the broader field of media. At the same time, nongovernmental organizations are considering how to use documentaries beyond the traditional "public relations" or "lesson" formats. Confronted by an explosion of social media sites (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook) and the proliferation of "screens" (laptops, netbooks, smartphones), groups are experimenting with technology to see what makes sense for their message and their constituency.

Documentary filmmakers and distributors are challenged to keep up. The familiar venues of the past are not necessarily the best ones today. For example, theatrical release, even in "art houses," works only for films that can attract a broad audience -- An Inconvenient Truth and Fahrenheit 9/11 are anomalies in terms of number of tickets sold and box-office revenues. Which is not to say that a good documentary film without an Al Gore cannot find an audience; it just might be an audience that would rather watch the film on their preferred personal screen rather than in a movie theater.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 26 - 27, 2009)

September 27, 2009


Here's this week's roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

Over at the Createquity blog, Ian David Moss offers a detailed examination of Americans for the Arts' 2007 economic impact survey Arts & Economic Prosperity III and its finding that "the nonprofit arts sector is responsible for $166.2 billion in economic activity nationwide." His conclusion: "A&EP III is a serious study, one worthy of our attention and use for advocacy and research purposes. However, some of its potential impact is undermined by the hyperbolic language with which it is often presented to the press and politicians...." (Thanks for the tip, Ian).


In the fourth installment of his "Connecting" series, Philanthropy Journal publisher Todd Cohen argues that stories "capture the indispensable role that nonprofits and charitable giving play in our communities" and can also "teach, inspire and engage." But in order to do so, says Cohen, they need to be clear, authentic, and genuine.

As part of the Case Foundation's Gear Up for Giving initiative, a month-long series of social media tutorials, Marnie Webb, co-CEO of TechSoup Global, lists five ways that nonprofits can build stronger relationships with their supporters:

  1. Write them a note. For no reason at all.
  2. Show up at their party.
  3. Give your supporters something special.
  4. Give them something else to do.
  5. Ask for feedback and change because of it.


For the next three weeks, Rosetta Thurman will profile Hispanic-American nonprofit leaders on her blog in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Last week, Thurman posted the first and second installments in her series, highlighting the affinity group Hispanics in Philanthropy and posting an interview with Ian Bautista, president of United Neighborhood Centers of America.

On the Greater New Orleans Foundation's Second Line blog, guest contributor Martin Gutierrez, executive director of Neighborhood and Community Services, celebrates the contributions that Hispanics have made to the post-Katrina recovery of communities in the Greater New Orleans area.


"Isn't it time to ask how ideas from the non-profit world can improve business?" writes Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim on her Business of Giving blog. The economic crisis has proven that "the market is [not] the best judge of success or failure," adds Heim. How then can nonprofits help the business world reinvent itself? Matthew Bishop, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World, offered a few ideas in a recent talk, which Heim includes in her post.


Can money buy happiness? According to a recent op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, it can. On her Non-Profit Marketing blog, Katya Andresen connects the Morning News piece to charity and reminds fundraising professionals that they are not only in the business of doing good; they're in the business of making people feel great.

On a similar note, Gift Hub blogger Phil Cubeta admonishes fundraisers to rise above their own agendas and serve, rather than solicit, donors. Writes Cubeta:

If [fundraisers] want...a seat at the planning table where the big dollars are planned, they too will have to serve not solicit the donor. They do that by letting go of a personal agenda long enough to learn what motivates the donor, to recommend advisory work when needed, and to suggest a mission match and charitable tools when and only when they fit in the larger planning picture....

And on the Donor Power Blog, Jeff Brooks says that you shouldn't believe everything you hear about the imminent demise of direct mail.


On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation blog, Margaret Stanley, former executive director of the Puget Sound Health Alliance, suggests that they key to healthcare reform may involve forging bonds and achieving consensus among local organizations and stakeholders.

International Affairs/Development

Can microfinance institutions sustain their business models in a down economy? Perhaps, says John Liebhardt on the Global Voices Online blog, thanks to the emergence of social media technology. Writes Liebhardt:

The marriage of microlending and social media works two ways. First it allows a disparate group of people, perhaps the entrepreneurs, to communicate and become organized. Secondly, it allows them to reach out and relay their message with the larger world. Microlending organizations have latched on to this, leveraging technology to make sure potential lenders can put a face to recipients’ stories. Perhaps these personal bonds originate from the Grameen Bank, which began lending funds on the basis of trust and used peer pressure to insure the loans were repaid. Or, perhaps microlenders online use interpersonal connections as a bulwark against compassion fatigue....

"With all the technology supporting these sites, however," adds Liebhardt, one has to wonder "whether these schemes will pass the sustainability test that often separates good development projects from just good ideas....

(H/t: AFP blog)


On the Foundation Center's Philanthropy Front and Center–Atlanta blog, Asia Hadley shares what she saw on a recent visit to New Orleans and asks, Where did the money go? As Hadley notes, a new Foundation Center report, Giving in the Aftermath of the 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes (2007-2009), attempts to answer that question and, in so doing, reveals "a shift in the focus of service providers and grantmakers from immediate relief to recovery and rebuilding." But as Hadley also notes, less affluent parts of the city still have a long way to go.


Writing on the eJewish Philanthropy blog, Steven Windmueller argues that "we are experiencing the greatest institutional crisis since the 1930s" and that "thinking outside the box" may not be enough to lead organizations through the current crisis as the "box" itself has become a moving target. In the "new normal," adds Windmueller, complexity is the name of the game, nothing is sacred, and values-driven leadership must be embraced as an essential feature of successful institutions.


"From the standpoint of foundation giving, more than half of the impact of the stock market crash has yet to be felt," writes Sean Stannard-Stockton on his Tactical Philanthropy blog. Indeed, says Stannard-Stockton, the

full effect of the financial crises will not hit the foundation sector until next year. When it does, the thing that will matter most to the social sector will be whether the influence of the collective expertise of foundation employees is greatly diminished or whether foundations step up to the plate and find creative ways to get their knowledge into the hands of major donors....

Social Entrepreneurship

The MacArthur Foundation has announced its 2009 fellows. And among the many terms used to describe these talented people, "social entrepreneur" fits best, says Nathaniel Whitemore on the blog. "[The winners] share a capacity to think differently and look for creative solutions," writes Whittemore, and "an unwillingness to accept the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be." Sounds like a pretty good definition of a social entrepreneur to us.

Social Media

On the Social Edge site, publisher and CauseWired author Tom Watson explains how this year's meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative became "a virtual boombox empowering women" thanks in part to social media wielded by celebs, bloggers, and journalists from traditional media outlets.

We can all learn from the social messenger framework developed by David Lipscomb, founder and president of communications firm Redpen21, says social media expert Beth Kanter. The idea, writes Kanter, is that nonprofits should not only use social media to listen and engage, but also think about how engagement supports their overall communications goals.


The Huffington Post has launched a new technology portal. Kicking things off, Robin Caldwell, managing editor at BlackWeb20, weighs in with a post about the "missing faces in technology and innovation." Writes Caldwell:

As we inch closer to Web 3.0, the question of ownership will be directly tied to who has access to the necessary tools to build on the "land." And if memory serves me correctly, the one who owns the land is the one who holds the power.

So why is it that I see the same names and faces -- none of which look like mine -- positioned as thought leaders and innovators in Web 2.0? Why do I see the same faces as representative of the power in technology

I've been informed on more than one occasion that we're hard to find....

[But] we're here. Now you know. And once you know, you're accountable....

And in part two of her forward-looking "Decoding the Future" series, Lucy Bernholz argues that cloud technology and peer to peer networks are on the verge of changing expectations about philanthropic data and the behaviors associated with those expectations. These changes, says Bernholz, "coupled with changes in the public and private sectors, are pushing a transition to a 'social economy' made up of interdependent public, private and philanthropic capital and creators of social goods." Good stuff, as always.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at And have a great week!

-- Regina Mahone

ANNOUNCEMENT: Greater New Orleans Foundation Launches Community IMPACT Program

September 02, 2009

We've had a great response to the Newsmaker interview we did with Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation. So before interest in post-recovery Katrina efforts begins to fade, we'd like to take a moment to publicize a new program just announced by the foundation.

The Community IMPACT Program will award $1 million in grants in six areas -- arts and culture, children and youth, civic engagement and nonprofit support, education, health, and human and social services -- to nonprofit organizations serving the thirteen-parish Greater New Orleans metro region. According a press release issued by the foundation, the ultimate goal of the program is "to create a resilient, sustainable, vibrant, and equitable region in which individuals and families flourish and in which the special character of the New Orleans region and its people is preserved, celebrated, and given the means to develop."

More from the release:

Who can apply?
Nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations that serve the Greater New Orleans region. Organizations that are not tax-exempt but have a fiscal agent relationship with a 501(c)(3) organization are also eligible.

How to apply?

  1. Submit a two- to three-page Letter of Intent by September 22, 2009. To review what the Letter of Intent should include, click here. Hard copies of the information can also be picked up at the Greater New Orleans Foundation offices, 1055 St. Charles Avenue, Suite 100. GNOF will review all Letters of Intent and will notify organizations invited to complete a full application by October 12, 2009.
  2. Those invited to submit a full application will be asked to submit their proposals by November 2, 2009. Awards will be announced by December 11, 2009.

Obviously, this is good news for the region and for nonprofits working to serve those who live there. But as Tony Pipa, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, reminded me in a comment he made in an earlier thread, there's a lot left to do. Writes Tony:

[W]hile I think there have been particular instances of philanthropy performing admirably, I think there is also much room for improvement in that response overall, and I hope that the sector takes an unvarnished look at its response and learns from the lessons. In regards to federal involvement, it's not so much whether there will continue to be support, but how that support is deployed and whether it gets to the people, businesses, and communities that really need it.

In answer to your question, many foundations (even some of the ones you mention) are wrapping up their commitments in the Gulf Coast, figuring that they've "done their part" for the recovery. If they take a second look at the Gulf Coast, though, I think they'd recognize that with the amount of creative community-problem solving going on, there are many lessons for them to learn by investing there that they could apply in other places. It requires looking at New Orleans and the Coast with new eyes, not as a region still trying to recover from crisis but as one looking to the future with energy and innovation....

We all know that foundations and individual donors were hit hard by the financial crisis. And while portfolios have recovered some of their losses and the economy may be bottoming, the future is uncertain. As Tony suggests, however, it is way too early to declare "Mission accomplished" in the Gulf. "Full recovery," still years away, should be our starting point, not a final goal. The "region was poor before the storms," Ruesga told me when I spoke to him. "The city suffered from so-called white flight in the '70s and '80s, and the region as a whole, being largely rural, suffered from years of public underinvestment."

I don't know about you, but I believe the affluent and well-to-do have done just fine over the last thirty years. It's time we turned our attention and really invested -- in thoughtful, creative, and sustainable ways -- in the poor and most vulnerable among us.

--Mitch Nauffts

Katrina: Looking Back Four Years Later

August 31, 2009

(Lauren Kelley is a staff writer for Philanthropy News Digest. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Katrina_2008_10_06..splande There's been a lot of talk the last few days about the recovery effort in New Orleans -- the benchmarks that have been met and how much work there is to be done. While the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is a natural opportunity to take stock of those efforts and to look ahead, I can't help but remember the immediate aftermath of the storm, which I experienced secondhand through my parents’ dispatches from the flooded city.

When Katrina first formed and began to pick up strength in late August 2005, my parents had lived in New Orleans a couple of years, having moved there from my hometown of Dallas. My mom, a native Floridian, was no stranger to hurricanes. When she was growing up in Miami, her family and friends would have "hurricane parties" -- they’d board up the windows, play cards by candlelight, run outside during the eye of the storm, and then go back in until the storm had passed.

But of course Katrina was no ordinary hurricane. When the storm’s size and strength became evident and the orders to evacuate (finally) came down, they knew that riding out the storm in their house was not an option.

At the time, my stepfather was the restaurant manager for a luxury hotel in downtown New Orleans, and because the hotel sat on relatively high ground, it was fully booked with New Orleanians and tourists who, for whatever reason, had not evacuated. Needing hands to keep the operation running, the hotel management offered rooms to any employee and his family who agreed to stay. Thinking the hotel would be a pretty safe place to be, my parents took the hotel up on its offer, packed a few days’ worth of clothes, and left their house without so much as taking the milk out of the refrigerator.

As it turned out, the hotel was a good place to be, as the edge of the storm passed over the city. It was an incredibly strong hurricane -- a few times, my mom belly-crawled from the bathroom to look out the hotel room window and, as she later told me, was treated to a scene right out of the Wizard of Oz, with random parts of buildings and houses flying by. But they were safe, they had an electric generator, a nice hotel room, and, amazingly, landline phone service. All things considered, they were pretty comfortable.

Then, of course, the levees were breached and everything changed. The events that unfolded over the next few days are well documented, so I won't rehash them here except to say that my parents, who couldn't watch TV, were more calm than I was. As the hours passed, I called them, increasingly panicked, to tell them about the mayhem Anderson Cooper was reporting about -- people airlifted off rooftops, old ladies and children just down the street at the Superdome with no water, food, or working toilets.

On August 31, my parents saw the water making its way up Canal Street toward the hotel, and that's when they knew it was time to go. And so they left, making it out on the one un-flooded highway headed for Dallas.

They weren't able to stop by their house before they left; their neighborhood, Gentilly, had been closed due to the breach of the nearby London Avenue Canal. So for days they sat in Dallas watching the devastation unfold, having no idea whether they would have a house to go back to. And even if they did, what kind of city they would be returning to.

When they were finally given the okay to return, six weeks after the storm made landfall, it was an occasion for both relief and sadness. On the one hand, their house was one of only two on the block that hadn't been flooded. A few minor repairs and the house itself was livable. On the other hand, their neighborhood was in shambles -- and other areas of the city were every bit as bad, if not worse. A house down the street, where an older woman had lived by herself, had flooded to the rafters. They didn't know whether the woman evacuated or not, but they never saw her again. In fact, most of Gentilly was empty and quiet. There were no streetlights. They had to use a generator for electricity. Hardest on my mom were the constant reminders of how much worse the outcome had been for others -- the marks on front doors left by rescue workers looking for bodies, the overpass near their house with SAVE US spray painted on the side.

Despite all the aid and money that subsequently poured into the city, redevelopment efforts in my parents' neighborhood moved at a glacial pace, and before long they decided they could no longer wait for things to get better. So they sold their home (an un-flooded house in post-Katrina New Orleans turned out to be something of a commodity) and went back to Dallas to pick up the pieces and make a new life. It was hard, to be sure, but their network of friends and family helped make it possible.

It's impossible to say how many of their neighbors were as lucky. Who knows what stories they have to tell, or how many of them will ever return to live in New Orleans. My parents returned, once, after that. They hung out in the French Quarter, ate beignets at Café du Monde, and visited friends. But they didn't go back to Gentilly. Instead, they chose to dwell on their pre-Katrina memories of the city, and the diversity, great food, and special joie de vivre that makes New Orleans New Orleans and which Katrina could never wash away.

(Photo courtesy of Greg Wesson's Esoteric Globe)

-- Lauren Kelley

(For more about the post-Katrina recovery effort in New Orleans and the Gulf region, check out the Foundation Center's newly updated Focus on the Gulf Coast Hurricane Relief page, read our Newsmaker interview with Greater New Orleans Foundation president and CEO Albert Ruesga, and weigh in on what PhilanTopic contributor Tony Pipa has to say about the foundation response to Katrina.)


New Orleans: Moving from Muddle to Model

August 27, 2009

(Tony Pipa is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In his last post, he reviewed Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa.)

Katrina01 The fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent failure of the levees in New Orleans will occur in just a few short days. Certainly the recovery of this iconic American city is far from complete and has been fraught with challenges. Halting and inadequate leadership at all levels of government has been too much on display, beginning with the flooding itself, a direct result of corners cut by the Army Corps of Engineers (with an assist from local management boards) when building and managing the levee system.* 

And yet where government has struggled, citizens have demonstrated resilience, creativity, and good old-fashioned guts. I truly believe that New Orleans has the highest level of civic engagement of any city in the United States right now. Residents keep up with what is happening in their neighborhoods, they voice their concerns, they try to come up with solutions. New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods, and almost every neighborhood has a vibrant, active grassroots group guiding its renewal. Organizations like Neighborhoods Partnership Network link them together and ensure shared support and vision.

Take Central City. A troubled neighborhood pre-Katrina, two of its public housing complexes are slated to be redeveloped with mixed-use housing, schools, and recreational facilities; an architecturally significant school, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, is being repurposed into a community resource center with cutting-edge early childhood development programs and integrated social services; and the business corridor along O.C. Haley Boulevard is being revitalized with streetscape improvements, loans leveraged from the city, and the possible use of land trusts to drive more locally-owned commercial development.

As someone who was on the ground almost immediately after the storm and frustrated, especially in the first year, by what I perceived to be an uncertain and overly conventional response from the foundation world, I have to admit that the recovery has also provided several instances of philanthropy at its best:

Philanthropy has taken risks. The Rockefeller Foundation and Greater New Orleans Foundation walked right into the middle of a hornet's nest when they provided the backing, both financial and political, for the United New Orleans Plan, a process that successfully involved many residents and put an end to the endless planning processes that kept springing up as the city tried to get off the mat. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of school reform, the philanthropic sector has played an important role in the effort to use charter schools to turn around and redefine what was arguably the country's worst public school system.

Philanthropy has focused on building capacity. The Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health has been advised by a committee of local grassroots leaders and has focused on supporting emerging activists and initiatives. In addition to strengthening the local nonprofit sector, foundations have even experimented with building the capacity of the public sector. The Ford Foundation, working in partnership with the Foundation for the Mid South and leveraging help from the Rockefeller Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, developed a loaned executive program to expand the pool of skilled professionals in city government.

Philanthropy has collaborated. Central City's renaissance has been catalyzed in part by a group of almost twenty foundations and corporations that have been intentional in integrating their approaches and communicating regularly about their work.

Philanthropy has been an advocate. The policy advocacy capacity of the Louisiana nonprofit sector was weak prior to the storm, and foundations both local and national have made significant investments to strengthen it and give it real voice at the federal, state, and local levels. In particular, the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, formed in the aftermath of the storm, has made public policy advocacy a real focus and incubated the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, a multi-state, multi-issue coalition of grassroots leaders advocating at the federal level.**

"Social innovation" has become an overused buzz phrase, but it's genuinely happening in myriad ways along the Gulf Coast. By the same token, the recovery has demonstrated the limitation of private action for the public good. After the largest charitable response in the nation's history, the work of thousands of volunteers from outside the area, and the tireless efforts of tens of thousands of residents, the challenges remain daunting. An estimated 65,000 properties in the city are blighted, the healthcare safety net is frayed (mental health services are a particular concern), and affordable housing is in short supply.

As the city shifts from a recovery mindset to a future-oriented vision, not quite halfway through what most residents consider to be a ten-year process, an improved governmental response will be critical to its success. Given the strong philanthropic and nonprofit presence, I think the opportunity exists for the Obama administration to make practical the new sort of relationship it has proposed between government and the social/philanthropic sector. New Orleans is starting to emerge as a model, with lessons for all of us, for all the right reasons. Too much hangs in the balance to walk away now.

-- Tony Pipa

* It is past infuriating how most media focus on "the storm" when describing what happened in New Orleans. New Orleans, in contrast to the towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, withstood Katrina's fury. Most people forget the sigh of relief the city breathed once the hurricane passed -- and before it became apparent that water was pouring through the cracks. What befell New Orleans was a man-made disaster, not a natural one.

** Disclaimer: I am a founder of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and continue to consult with it and other foundations and NGOs working in the region.

Katrina: A Forgotten Crisis?

August 26, 2009

Katrina-category-5 Well, yes, according to a recent study of print media coverage of post-Katrina poverty since 2005. The study by D.C.-based Freedman Consulting found that:

  • Coverage of the relationship between Gulf Coast poverty and the effects of Katrina on residents of the region in U.S. newspapers and wires has declined steadily, reaching its lowest point in recent months;
  • Coverage of Katrina in general, while also declining, has been relatively high; coverage of the relationship between poverty and Katrina has made up a very small portion of Katrina coverage;
  • Coverage has declined not only in regional newspapers outside the Gulf Coast region, but also in twenty-five of the most read national and regional newspapers;
  • Coverage in Gulf Coast newspapers has declined far less rapidly than it has in outside newspapers;
  • Coverage of major celebrities and Gulf Coast sports teams has exceeded and in most cases dwarfed coverage of the relationship between povery and Katrina.

True, the Katrina story has had to compete with a number of other big stories, including the surge in Iraq and subsequent deterioration of what had been an improved security situation in that country; an historic presidential election; and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Not to mention the comings and goings of all the Britneys, Lindseys, and housewives of god knows where.

But the Katrina-Gulf Coast poverty story is huge, and, as the Freedman study makes clear, the fact that it's fading from media coverage is cause for concern.

We're not a major national media outlet (yet), but as we were looking ahead earlier this month to the fourth anniversary of Katrina, we decided to reach out to one of the smartest people we know, Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, for a local perspective on Katrina, the persistent poverty in the region, and what foundations and the rest of us can do about it.

Here's an excerpt from our conversation:

Philanthropy News Digest: How are residents of the city and region feeling about the recovery effort? Are people optimistic? Tired? Do they feel abandoned or forgotten?

Albert Ruesga: There's an abiding anger over the city, state, and federal responses, but the folks I work with in the nonprofit sector, in business, and in government are very upbeat and hopeful. The region has come a long way these past four years. Long-time New Orleanians love their city deeply and their love has sustained the region for many generations. Newcomers like myself share their passion and want to contribute to the region's recovery. We've been warmly welcomed.

There's an organization called 504ward dedicated to helping younger newcomers establish themselves in the city. "Five-oh-four" by the way, is the area code for the City of New Orleans. The organization was founded by one of our local heroes, Leslie Jacobs, who also played a key role in saving and reforming the Orleans Parish schools in the aftermath of the storms.

PND: What have been the chief obstacles to a speedier recovery -- in New Orleans and region-wide?

AR: Our region was poor before the storms. The city suffered from so-called white flight in the '70s and '80s, and the region as a whole, being largely rural, suffered from years of public underinvestment. The failure of the levees during Katrina put 80 percent of the city under water and devastated tens of thousands of homes and other structures. We lost two thousand souls to the storm. You don't snap back from that in just a few years.

We have no lack of volunteers willing to come from across the country to help us rebuild. We're deeply grateful for their generosity. I don't want to sound crass, but what we need most is money. Our nonprofit leaders are the smartest and most committed you'll find anywhere. After the failure of the levees, they didn't wait for government -- local, state, or federal -- to save them and their neighborhoods. They took action. But they can't survive on air. They need resources to invest in their programs and in themselves. Our local philanthropic institutions are stretched to the limits. We support many functions that are properly the domain of government. Our public institutions also need support as much as they need to be challenged to speed our recovery.

PND: Based on stories you've heard since you've been at GNOF, which organizations and agencies were especially effective in responding to the disaster and its aftermath? Which ones could have performed better? And which ones are still delivering the goods?

AR: Stories of heroism abound. In the aftermath of Katrina, many neighborhood associations sprung up whose acts of courage and generosity are legend. I think of organizations like the Broadmoor Improvement Association and the Lower 9th Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Association, Mary Queen of Viet Nam, and many others. They're still doing our region a world of good. There were many individual heroes and heroines acting without the support of private or public institutions as well.

Don't get me started on FEMA or the Army Corps of Engineers.

PND: Has the Obama administration been responsive to the plight of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

AR: We've had quite a few visits from members of the administration, and what we've seen during those visits is not only incredible sensitivity to the plight of the region, but also a very deep background in the kind of work the civil sector does. That's been refreshing. At the same time, one of the traps we have to be careful of not falling into is expecting that it's up to the Obama administration, it's up to a black president, to care for black people. It's not. It's the responsibility of every president and every legislator at every level....

PND: Katrina exposed some painful truths about New Orleans that had been hiding in plain sight -- entrenched poverty, an abysmal public school system, high levels of unemployment and crime, public sector corruption, a glaring divide between the region's haves and have-nots. That that was the reality for tens of thousands of the city's residents came as a shock to many Americans. Were you shocked by the racial and class disparities revealed by the storm and its aftermath?

AR: Not in the least. These disparities are endemic to every major city in the United States. It's consistently a tale of two cities in places like New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles -- wherever you go that has a significant minority population. I've had some of the most honest and fruitful conversations about race here in New Orleans, not in the cities of the East Coast. What was appalling to me, rather than shocking, was the lack of reflection and analysis in media coverage of the storm and its aftermath.

Its soul and its beauty aside, New Orleans is in many ways Every City....

To read the complete interview, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Congratulations, Albert!

December 21, 2008

ReusgaWe're pleased when good things happen to good people. The Greater New Orleans Foundation, a community foundation serving New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, has announced that Albert Ruesga will join the foundation as president and CEO in January. Ruesga replaces Ben Johnson, who served as GNOF's chief executive from 1991 to 2008, and Ellen Lee, who has served as interim president since Johnson's departure from the foundation in June.

Currently vice president for programs and communications at the Washington, D.C.-based Meyer Foundation, Ruesga previously served as founding director of New Ventures in Philanthropy, a national initiative of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers; worked with the Boston Foundation; and was an assistant professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College.

He's also a wicked good writer. In fact, two of my favorite posts this year were written by Albert and appeared on White Courtesy Telephone, his hugely entertaining blog.

The first, a point-by-point rebuttal of the most common objections to social justice philanthropy, is a must-read for anyone who cares about fairness and justice in society. Here's how Albert answers critics who say funding for social services or youth enrichment programs or housing development etc. is social justice funding.

I'll cede the point: there's no use arguing over the ownership of the term "social justice." Moreover, I can imagine contexts in which giving a hungry man a piece of bread would count as a deeply political act. It's true that funding social services or youth programs, for example, fails the definition I've given above of social justice philanthropy. After all, providing funding for these services doesn’t typically lead to structural change and might in some cases impede it. Nevertheless there's something wonderfully human, deeply just about giving assistance to someone who needs our help.

There is, however, another kind of funding that aims to address the upstream causes of our downstream problems, that asks why some communities are much more desperately in need of social services or affordable housing than others, or why the young people in these communities attend schools that are falling down around their heads. It's the kind of philanthropy that analyzes how power and privilege are brokered and maintained in this country. It's the kind of philanthropy I'm championing here. I'll call it "social justice philanthropy plus" perhaps, "or turbo philanthropy" or "Maureen." Rather than fight for possession of the term social justice philanthropy, I'd happily yield it to whomever would claim it since ultimately it doesn’t matter what we call it, it matters only that we do it....

And this is Albert opining about the "talent gap" in the nonprofit sector:

Attend any earnest discussion of nonprofit issues and there’s frequently an elephant in the room. On the issue of how to attract and retain the best nonprofit talent, the room that houses all those elephants in the room is, in my view, the chronic and significant undercapitalization of nonprofit organizations.

"Undercapitalization" is a fancy way of saying that nonprofits are always madly scrambling for money. This undercapitalization leads to fundraising burnout (figuring prominently in both the Daring to Lead and Ready to Lead reports), underinvestment of time and money in staff capacity, lack of attention to new staff, and an impoverished organizational infrastructure.

But chronic undercapitalization also exacerbates something I'll call the nonprofit "frump factor." That's frump as in "frumpy." Think Roz Chast doing a cartoon about a bake sale for the local 4-H Club.

A friend and I were watching a film about the making of Cloverfield, one of those big budget summer blockbusters featuring extraordinary special effects: thirty-storey monsters tearing off the head of the Statue of Liberty and hurling it down Broadway -- that kind of thing. At one point my friend, a veteran of nonprofit work, turned to me and asked, "Why can’t our sector do anything as cool as that?"...

Alas, things have been pretty quiet over at WCT since midsummer, and now maybe we know why. Still, what a shame. Imagine, had he had the time, what Albert might've said about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the bailouts of AIG, Fannie and Freddie, the TARP, Hank Paulson, Bernie Madoff, and the whole sorry cast of characters on the Hill and on Wall Street that fiddled madly as Rome burned.

Congrats to GNOF on an inspired choice. And here's wishing you the best in your new job and city, Albert. Don't forget to write.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Foundation Center Launches Gulf Coast Giving Feature

August 28, 2008

Katrina01_2To mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating assault on the Gulf Coast, the Foundation Center has launched a special Web feature that puts private institutional giving for Gulf Coast recovery into sharper focus.

Powered by data collected on thousands of grants made from 2005 through 2008, the interactive feature allows visitors to map more than $800 million of the over $1 billion donated to relief and recovery efforts by institutional grantmakers. The feature also provides links to related PND news stories and Foundation Center research reports.

The feature is the first in what is expected to be a series of free, accessible, data-driven features tied to special topics and current events as they relate to philanthropy.

To learn more, visit:

But don't stop there. What do you think of our new mapping and charting tools? How can we make them better? How would you like to see them applied in the future? To share your thoughts, use the comments thread attached to this post.

-- Mitch Nauffts


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